A couple of states also acknowledge they haven't quite figured out how they're going to get pollution down to the levels the federal government expects. West Virginia's 92-page plan, for instance, leaves certain sections blank, saying state officials are awaiting more guidance from the EPA's computer modeling.
"We could've put a whole bunch of fluff in there that says nothing, but we didn't see the point in that," said Scott Manderola, director of West Virginia's division of water and waste management. The state is working with the EPA to get the needed information to fill in those blanks, he added.
Maryland's plan proposes reaching its pollution-reduction targets five years early, by 2020, and it lays out enough options for curtailing nitrogen in state waters to go nearly a third below the federally mandated goal.
"We wanted to lay out a range of options that get us beyond where we need to go," said Shari T. Wilson, the state's secretary of the environment, "so during the public comment period we can have a good discussion about which options are the best ones to choose."
Indeed, the state plan lays out more than a dozen different things farmers could do to curb polluted runoff, including several for which the EPA has yet to determine effectiveness.
For instance, state officials say they plan to review current guidelines for how much phosphorus farmers can apply when fertilizing their crops. Some fields on the Eastern Shore, where poultry manure is widely used as fertilizer, are oversaturated with phosphorus, making it prone to wash into drainage ditches and streams whenever it rains. Tightening those guidelines could limit where and how much chicken manure is applied to fields.
As a parallel measure, state officials have also proposed developing and expanding alternative uses for chicken litter and other farm animal manure, including converting more of it to dry, pelletized fertilizer and burning it to produce energy.
Environmental activists have found things they like in Maryland's plan, but a lot lacking.
Jenn Aiosa, a senior scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said she liked some of the state's proposals, particularly those dealing with storm-water runoff, the only growing source of pollution in the bay. But overall, she said she found the state's plan "unclear on what actions the state will take and when it will put those actions on the ground."
"There are a lot of good ideas," agreed Tommy Landers, policy advocate for Environment Maryland. But, he added, "it needs more detail about how they're going to enforce pretty much everything they're thinking about doing."
Chief among the missing details, he added, is where the money will come from to underwrite additional cleanup efforts.
In a cover letter with Maryland's plan, Wilson and Natural Resources Secretary John R. Griffin note that with the state in the grips of "the worst economic recession since the Great Depression," the O'Malley administration has been limited in how much it can spend on bay restoration.
While hopeful that state revenues will eventually rebound, O'Malley administration officials point to "competing pressures" on state funds "that will constrain the budgetary choices that we have to make during the next year or two."
Griffin, in an interview, pointed out that federal Chesapeake Bay legislation sponsored by Maryland Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin would authorize $1.5 billion in new federal grants to deal with urban and suburban storm-water pollution. Barring that, he noted that there may be renewed legislative efforts to require all local governments to raise funds to retrofit storm drains — legislation that did not pass this year.
The plan itself also notes that the fund dedicated to paying for upgrading sewage treatment plants — financed through a $30 annual fee on all state households — will run short of money by 2012. It says only that options for closing the deficit are being discussed, without endorsing any.
The EPA plans to hold 18 public meetings across the region to seek comment on its draft pollution diet, which will be released Sept. 24. The states, meanwhile, have scheduled public meetings of their own to get feedback on their plans. Maryland has four sessions set, beginning in late September.
Steinzor, the regulatory reform advocate, says that if federal and state officials really want feedback from the public on which cleanup measures are the most acceptable, they need to streamline their voluminous plans and spell out more clearly just what they're proposing to do, how much it'll cost, and where the money's to come from.
"We don't need to hear about all these endless pages with lots of charts and graphs," she said. "It's time for them to translate it out of bureaucratese and make some hard decisions."
Bay plans' common threads